Two big wins for populism: Hightower wins Nation/Puffin Prize; Dobbs quits CNN

We are nearly speechless (rare in our office), and thrilled to announce that Hightower is the recipient of the 2009 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. Below are the full details in a press release sent out this morning.

Combined with the fact that the xenophobic, racist Lou Dobbs left CNN suddenly last night, after years of spreading vitriol and a giving populism a bad name. Spread the word, it’s a huge day for progressive populism!

For more on what progressive populism really looks like, check out the Hightower Lowdown‘s May 2009 issue: “Populism is not a style, it’s a people’s rebellion against corporate power.”


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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Recipient of the 2009 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship Announced

November 11, 2009 (New York, NY): The Nation Institute announced today that national radio commentator and bestselling author Jim Hightower is the 2009 recipient of the $100,000 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. Hightower will receive the award on December 7 at The Nation Institute Annual Dinner Gala in New York City.

An advocate for everyday people whose voices are seldom heard in Washington and on Wall Street, Hightower believes that ‘politics isn’t about left versus right; it’s about top versus bottom.’ He broadcasts daily radio commentaries on subjects ranging from public healthcare to Hamid Karzai. They air on more than 150 commercial and public stations across the country.

Each month, Hightower publishes a populist political newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, exposing hypocrisy in Congress and targeting the abuses of big corporations. With more than 135,000 subscribers, the hard-hitting Lowdown has received both the Alternative Press Award and the Independent Press Association Award for best national newsletter. An inspiring orator, Hightower delivers up to 100 fiery speeches a year, which has justly established him as ‘America’s most popular populist.’ Twice elected as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, his term was praised for nurturing organic production, promoting alternative crops, regulating pesticides and monitoring groundwater, among other programs.

A New York Times best-selling author, Hightower has written seven books, including Thieves in High Places; If The Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates; and There’s Nothing In The Middle Of The Road But Yellow Stripes And Dead Armadillos. His most recent book, co-authored with longtime partner Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against The Current. Jesse Jackson, Jr. has said of him, ‘Jim Hightower is a tireless champion for every American, and he has the right prescription for what ails our nation.’

Perry Rosenstein, President of the Puffin Foundation, Ltd., the co-sponsor of the Creative Citizenship award, said, ‘Jim Hightower is a front line defender of our civil liberties. Swimming against the current is a challenge he welcomes at all times.’ Hamilton Fish, President of The Nation Institute, the co-sponsor of the prize, said, ‘Hightower is the standard bearer of progressive populism. With passion, keen intelligence and unsparing wit, he has been an indispensable leader in the struggle against concentrated power.’

You can find more information about Hightower on his website, jimhightower.com.

Each year, The Puffin Foundation Ltd. and The Nation Institute recognize an individual who has challenged the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative and socially responsible work of significance. Candidates are found in a broad range of occupations and pursuits, and the award is intended to encourage the recipients to continue their work and to inspire others to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies they face in their careers. Jim Hightower is the ninth winner of the prestigious award. Previous recipients are environmental activist Van Jones, human rights lawyer Michael Ratner, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, educator and author Jonathan Kozol, journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich, professor and anti-death penalty advocate David Protess, labor activist Dolores Huerta and civil rights pioneer Robert Parris Moses.

For more information on the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, go to www.nationinstitute.org/puffinnation/

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The Fourth of July Is a Celebration of Agitation

Are you an agitator? You know, one of those people who won’t leave well enough alone, who’s always questioning authority and trying to stir things up.

If so, the Powers That Be detest you — you … you … “agitator!” They spit the term out as a pejorative to brand anyone who dares to challenge the established order. “Oh,” they scoff, “our people didn’t mind living next to that toxic waste dump until those environmental agitators got them upset.” Corporate chieftains routinely wail that “our workers were perfectly happy until those union agitators started messing with their minds.”

In each case, the message is that America would be a fine country if only we could get rid of those pesky troublemakers who get the hoi polloi agitated about one thing or another.

Bovine excrement. Were it not for agitators, we wouldn’t even have an America. The Fourth of July would be just another hot day, we’d be singing “God Save the Queen,” and our government officials would be wearing white-powdered wigs.

Agitators created America, and it’s their feisty spirit and outright rebelliousness that we celebrate on our national holiday. I don’t merely refer to the Founders, either. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Ben Franklin and the rest certainly were derring-do agitators when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, creating the framework for a democratic republic. But they didn’t actually create much democracy. In the first presidential election, only 4 percent of the people were even eligible to vote. No women allowed, no African Americans, no American Indians and no one who was landless.

So, on the Fourth, it’s neither the documents of democracy that we celebrate nor the authors of the documents. Rather, it’s the intervening two-plus centuries of ordinary American agitators who have struggled mightily against formidable odds to democratize those documents.

Read the rest of this column on Creators.com

Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read Jim Hightower’s column in your hometown paper.

Today’s Perpetrators of Gas Pump Thievery

Like a Fourth of July crescendo of fireworks, our gasoline prices are rising higher and higher. While this is tough on consumers, we’re assured by a covey of tongue-clucking industry analysts that nothing can be done about it, for it’s simply the law of supply and demand in action — so suck it up, and pay up.

But hold your BPExxonMobilShellChevron horses right there. Supply and demand? The supply of crude oil has risen this year to its highest level in nearly two decades, even while the demand for gasoline has dropped dramatically, having fallen this month to a 10-year low. Let’s see — supply up, demand down. That’s a classic market formula for cheaper prices at the pump. Yet our prices have steadily moved up, rising by two-thirds since the beginning of the year (and by 60 cents a gallon in the past two months alone).

What’s going on here is not the “magic of the marketplace,” but some hocus-pocus by brand-name dealers. What might surprise you, though, is that the wheeler-dealers now jacking up our pump prices don’t operate under the BPExxonMobilShellChevron brands — but the logos of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other Wall Street traders that have been placing vast, unregulated, secretive bets on the future price of oil. They’re playing an electronic casino game in a global “dark market” of exotic derivatives and credit swaps.

If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s because this is the same game that Wall Street played with subprime mortgages, leading to the present crash of our economy. And, yes, these are the exact same banksters that you and I are presently bailing out with our trillions of tax dollars.

Read the rest of this column on Creators.com

Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read Jim Hightower’s column in your hometown paper.

Pockets of Influence in Washington

What do shoplifters and members of Congress have in common? Tailor-made clothing.

Like a shoplifter’s long coat, the suits of many lawmakers come with an astonishing array of inside pockets that hold surprising volumes of loot. We already know about various conduits that politicians have crafted to funnel cash into their election campaigns, but USA Today recently reported that our congressional stalwarts have also created a series of less-obvious pockets for stashing special-interest influence money.

The newspaper analyzed some 3,000 donations that lobbyists made in 2008 under an obscure category called “honorary expenses.” These are unrestricted contributions that lobbyists make to outside groups in “honor” of top Washington officials. Unsurprisingly, the pockets in which the gifts are tucked are directly connected to the honorees — and usually have been created by them.

Read the rest of this column on Creators.com

Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read Jim Hightower’s column in your hometown paper.

Have You Driven a Han Lately?

If you want to be seen as a flag-flying, macho American, you’ve got to have the right ride — and nothing says swaggering hedonism and outta-my-way arrogance quite like a Hummer.

Yes, it’s a high-dollar, gas-guzzling symbol of excess, but hey, that’s the point! As the founder of a Hummer support group once snarled, “Those who deface a Hummer in words or deed deface the American flag and what it stands for.”

Actually, I thought the flag stood for liberty and justice for all, but that’s now just a quibble, because Hummer no longer flies the red, white and blue. It’s turned commie! General Motors has quietly sold its Hummer division to the Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co., a construction and equipment conglomerate in the bicycle-pedaling People’s Republic of China.

The land of Mao, who vehemently denounced the material and moral decadence of the West, now owns one of the West’s most decadent consumer products. Though the Hummer’s Chinese name is “Han Ma,” the marketing concept for this humongous armored chunk of ostentatious testosterone remains the same. Han Ma means “fierce horse.”

It’s a brave new car world we now live in. GM, a remnant of its former self, is essentially owned by the U.S. government, Chrysler is coming under Italian control, and both Jaguar and Land Rover are in the hands of India’s Tata Motors.

Read the rest of this column on Creators.com

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Stopping the Desecration of Mountaintop Removal

Obama spaketh, and it was good: “We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains,” he proclaimed.

And, yea, in the mountains and down through all the valleys of the ancient land of Appalachia, hearts were filled with joy, for here was a prophet of hope who was signaling that a change was coming — at last, the endtime was at hand for the brutish coal-mining method called “mountaintop removal,” which is an abomination.

Even as the people rejoiced at this good news, coal barons trembled in their temples of black gold. For a decade, these mighty extractors of wealth had been allowed to accumulate unto themselves enormous profits by exploding the tops off the peaks in Appalachia, the oldest mountain range in all the land. With the top third of these awesome, forested mountains reduced to rubble, the barons used giant machines to strip out seams of coal, and then they simply shoved the rubble and toxic coal waste down the mountainsides, burying the valleys and streams below. It was a desecration — but the love of mammon made it the law of the land.

Then, behold, now the prophet became president, so he was in a position to put his words into action.

And act, he did. On May 15, it was announced that Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency had quietly approved 42 of 48 new Appalachian mining permits sought by the coal barons.

Say what? The prophet of change and hope just OK-ed more desecration by coal mining profiteers? What in the name of a mysterious God is going on here?

Politics. Politics at its weaseliest. Industry supporters point out that while Obama had expressed his concern about this detestable practice in last year’s presidential race, he had not actually promised to halt it. Cute, huh?

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Eliminating the threat of “Death by Pie”

Out in Arizona, an old tombstone bears an epitaph for a young gunslinger: “I was expecting this/But not so soon.”

Gunslinging, of course, is a high-risk business. But today, some of us can expect to have the following marker on our graves: “Here lies a guy/Killed by a pot pie.”

America’s pot-pie threat lurks in an ingredient that today’s producers of frozen foods don’t list on their packages: salmonella. In just one salmonella outbreak in 2007, the Banquet brand of pies sickened an estimated 15,000 people in 41 states.

The true culprit in such poisonings, however, is not the little deadly bug, but the twin killers of corporate globalization and greed. Giant food corporations, scavenging the globe in a constant search for ever-cheaper ingredients to put in their processed edibles, are resorting to low-wage, high-pollution nations that have practically no food-safety laws, much less any safety enforcement.

Consider the case of ConAgra Foods, a massive conglomerate that sells 100 million pot pies a year under its Banquet label. Each pie contains 25 ingredients sourced from all over the world — often from subcontractors who don’t report their sources. Until the 2007 salmonella contamination of its pies, ConAgra did not even require suppliers to test for pathogens, nor did it do its own tests. Since poisoning one’s customers turned out to be a bad strategy for earning repeat business, the conglomerate now runs spot checks — but even when it detects contamination in a pie, it has not been able to determine which ingredient is the bad one.

Read the rest of this column on Creators.com

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You Can Always Bank on the Greed of Wall Street Bankers

No doubt you’re going to feel terrible about this. Top executives of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse, are in a pout about how they’re being treated by you and me — i.e., the public.

These execs are used to being revered as financial geniuses, but having taken a $10 billion bailout from us taxpayers last fall, they’re now widely viewed as … well, as welfare recipients. Like other welfare checks, the big one that Washington doled out to Goldman Sachs came with some strings attached, causing the chieftains to get all huffy. Especially galling to these princes of privilege is the limit on salaries and bonuses that bailed out banks are allowed to give to those in the executive suites.

Thus, Goldman recently threw a little hissy fit and haughtily declared that it will pay back our $10 billion to get the blankety-blank government out of its private business. Bold move! At last, Wall Streeters are reasserting their rugged, free-enterprise ethic, right?

Uh, not exactly.

What Goldman officials fail to mention is that they’ll still be clinging to several other lifeboats floated to them by those skinflint meanies in Washington. For example, when insurance giant AIG was given some $200 billion last year to save it from total collapse, $12 billion of it was actually a pass-through payment to Goldman Sachs. Best of all, this quiet handout did not come with any of those nasty restrictions on executive pay — so Goldman is happily hanging onto this backdoor subsidy.

Then there’s another $28 billion that was slipped to these hardy free-marketers in the form of special low-interest loans guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. — a subsidy that Goldman’s chief financial officer concedes is vital to its survival. Far from foregoing this government underwriting, the bankers say they expect to ask for $7 billion more of it.

Additionally, Goldman has taken many more billions’ worth of low-cost loans from Federal Reserve funds. How many more billions? The Fed and the bank say this is “proprietary” information, not for public disclosure, even though it is public money.

Read the rest of this column on Creators.com

Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read Jim Hightower’s column in your hometown paper.